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Apocalyptic – and atop the bestseller lists

Author Tim LaHaye takes on the final battle between good and evil

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It seems an unlikely scenario – a retired preacher who has never written a novel being handed a $42 million book deal by Bantam for a new Christian fiction series. But then, Tim LaHaye is no ordinary fellow.

He's come to fame and considerable fortune as the man behind a publishing phenomenon: the astonishingly successful "Left Behind" series of novels on the End Times, based on biblical prophecy in the Book of Revelation. More than 35 million copies have been sold since 1995.

Last month, thousands rushed to Wal-Marts and other chain stores across the US to buy "The Remnant," the 10th installment in the final battle between good and evil, and the fourth in a row to debut at No. 1 on major bestseller lists. Last year, as sales soared in the wake of Sept. 11, the ninth book became the bestselling novel of 2001.

The Rev. Mr. LaHaye, who outlines the themes and plots that writer Jerry Jenkins turns into fast-paced thrillers, is a recent addition to the celebrity pantheon. But he has long had a consequential, if less visible, impact on American life and politics as a crucial figure in the culture wars.

Indeed, some critics worry that the "Left Behind" series serves as a vehicle for spreading not only prophetic but political views that could make US society even more contentious.

"We are in a cultural war in this country, and there are two worldviews – one built on the writings of man and one on the writing of God, the Bible," LaHaye says in an interview. "Those two views of what is going to help America and the world are 180 degrees in opposition."

Molding fundamentalist views

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, credits LaHaye with being the motivation behind the birth of the Religious Right. Last year, LaHaye was named the most influential Christian leader of the past 25 years by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

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